Celebrating 40 years of innovation from Orbis International


40 years after the inaugural flight of the Flying Eye Hospital, Orbis International continues to harness the power of innovation to reach new heights in the fight against avoidable blindness.

Since 1982, three generations of the Flying Eye Hospital have taken eye care teams to more than 95 countries around the world. Image courtesy of Geoff Oliver Bugbee/Orbis

Orbis International is marking 40 years of innovation to fight avoidable blindness around the world, commemorating the debut flight of its Flying Eye Hospital, a fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board a plane that launched a legacy that has continued to define Orbis over the past four decades.

Derek Hodkey, president and CEO of Orbis International, noted in a news release that Orbis's founders had a simple yet ambitious vision when they first conceived of the Flying Eye Hospital four decades ago: to end avoidable blindness by providing training to eye care teams around the world.

"That vision has not changed,” he said. “We still believe that the best way to save sight is to bring people together to share knowledge, skills and support. What has changed is that, today, we have more ways to bring more people together than ever before."

According to the news release, since 1982, three generations of the Flying Eye Hospital have taken training to eye care teams in over 95 countries around the world, while Orbis has continued to innovate and grow its work beyond that carried out on the plane to achieve scalable impact.

The organization also noted that over the past four decades, Orbis has conducted tens of millions of eye screenings and conducted eye surgeries and laser treatments for hundreds of thousands of patients. Orbis has also trained hundreds of thousands of eye care professionals at all levels – including tens of thousands of medical doctors. The people Orbis trains go on to provide sight-saving care in their communities and, in many cases, go on to train eye care professionals themselves.

A legacy of innovation

Simulation training allows eye care teams to build their skills and confidence safely before progressing to real-life surgeries, leading to better outcomes for patients. Image courtesy of Geoff Oliver Bugbee/Orbis

Simulation training allows eye care teams to build their skills and confidence safely before progressing to real-life surgeries, leading to better outcomes for patients. (Image courtesy of Geoff Oliver Bugbee/Orbis)

Orbis launched long-term country programs in 1998 that are now training local eye care teams, building strong eye care systems and influencing national policies to prioritize eye care across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. Through these efforts, Orbis has supported the establishment or improvement of 60 tertiary hospitals, 280 secondary eye hospitals, over 800 primary eye care centers and health facilities, nearly 160 vision centers and over 75 pediatric eye care centers that are ensuring more people can access quality eye care.

The organization also noted that it began investing in remote learning in the earliest days of the internet by creating Cybersight, an award-winning telemedicine platform that gives eye care professionals in areas with the greatest need free virtual access to training and other resources to better help their patients.

More than 56,000 users across more than 200 countries and regions are now registered on the platform. Cybersight allowed Orbis to quickly adapt and continue serving communities in need during the pandemic, including by launching virtual versions of Flying Eye Hospital courses.

More recently, Orbis has collaborated on the development of technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality tools that are revolutionizing how eye care professionals treat their patients and undergo training. The price points of technologies like these have too often kept them out of reach for the eye care professionals who could most benefit from them, which is why Orbis works to make them available for free for eye care teams in low- and middle-income countries.

Why innovate for sight

Globally, 1.1 billion people live with vision loss, a staggering 90% of which is avoidable. Existing prevention methods and treatments – like surgeries, antibiotics and eyeglasses – could restore sight to millions of children and adults around the world. Yet nine out of ten people with vision loss live in low- and middle-income countries, where eye care is often unavailable or difficult to access.

Great strides have been made in increasing access to eye care. A tripling of blindness that was projected to occur by 2050 has been offset. Still, nearly 60 million are expected to be blind by 2050, while the number of people in need of eye care is outpacing the number of trained ophthalmologists. The answer is to ensure that eye care professionals everywhere can access quality ophthalmic training, building the skills they need to provide quality eye care to their patients.

Cutting-edge technologies and innovative approaches have long been an important tool for meeting the rapidly increasing scale of global eye care needs – the pandemic has made them vital not to fall further behind. The solutions to end avoidable blindness exist, and Orbis remains committed to scaling them and getting them into the hands of the eye care teams that need them most.

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